It’s hard for smartwatches to be as useful as they can be when they’re tethered to phones. Hard as it can be to leave a smartphone behind these days, sometimes it makes sense — if you’re running, or maybe if the phone’s dead. Or, maybe you forget the phone and you just want a connected backup on your wrist. Point is, while standalone connectivity on a smartwatch might not be a central feature, it’s a lot better to have it than not. Samsung’s usually been the best about this with their Gear smartwatches, and that’s continuing with the Gear S3 that they’re announcing at IFA this week. It’s not their first standalone smartwatch, but it is the first with LTE connectivity, along with a handful of other features that should make it one of the more useful wearables to come out this year.
The S3 will come in LTE and Bluetooth-only models, but both will benefit from a handful of other sensors and connectivity features Samsung is adding. The S3 will have an altimeter, a barometer, and, most importantly, its own GPS chip. That’s great news for runners who want to go light and those who would like to use their smartwatch for navigation without their phone. Add LTE connectivity, and you can get smartphone notifications while you’re out, too. It’s kind of surprising these features aren’t in more smartwatches — they actually open up uses for smartwatches that wouldn’t be as convenient when used with a phone.
Appropriately enough, Samsung has made the Gear S3 very useful for all kinds of exercise. It can detect if you’re running, cycling, rowing, hiking, and will record stats relevant to those activities. To match those outdoors activities, Samsung has given the Gear S3 military-grade protection against drops, shocks, and extreme temperatures, plus IP68 protection against dust and water (which means it can survive being submerged in five feet of water for up to 30 minutes). The display is protected by Corning Gorilla SR+ glass, one of their latest developments.
Another big addition is MST connectivity. Samsung has added this to their phones as well, and it’s integral to Samsung Pay. MST allows you to use Samsung Pay by tapping your phone to a magnetic card reader — there are still far more of those payment terminals than those with chip readers or NFC pads, and it gives Samsung Pay a big leg up over Apple Pay and Android Pay. Adding that to the S3 means it’ll be every bit as useful to Samsung Pay as a Galaxy S phone. The S3 will retain NFC connectivity, too.
Both the Bluetooth-only and LTE watches can handle HD voice calling. Related to that, Samsung has added an SOS feature — tapping on the watch three times will initiate a call with a contact that you designate. That contact will also receive your location, and their voice will be muted by default, in case the SOS button is used in a situation where you might be threatened by another person. The SOS calling uses ADT’s secure calling service.
To help power all those new features, Samsung has upped battery capacity to 380 mAh. Samsung says that should make the S3 last up to three days on one charge, but just in case, if the watch gets down to 5 percent battery it’ll shift into watch mode, which will tell you the time and nothing else for about 10 hours. Solves another big problem with smartwatches — a dead watch that can’t even tell time.
The S3 will be available in a classic and more masculine frontier design. They still have the same design quirks Samsung introduced with the S2, including the rotating watch face used to control some of the watch’s features. The only bummer is that the LTE model is only available on the frontier watch, with the classic model only getting the Bluetooth-only model. Either way, the S3 is bigger, measuring 46 mm x 49 mm compared to the 42 mm and 44 mm models available on the Gear S2. Both of the Gear S3 models will have 4 GB of internal storage and will still have AMOLED displays and run Samsung’s Tizen OS. We’re not sure about pricing or availability yet, but we expect we’ll hear news about that soon.